More than 35 million people around the world -- 85 percent of whom are women and children -- have been devastated by war, natural disasters and other catastrophic events. And many of these innocent victims end up in cramped refugee camps -- where they languish for years, with no chance to work or even attend school. In South Sudan, where an ongoing civil war has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises on record, Salesian missionaries are working for peace and fostering hope for thousands of youth.
Education is the key to these efforts.
“We know from experience that education drives lasting peace, dignity and long-term socio-economic security,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Now, more than ever, access to such education is crucial to those affected by armed conflict and disaster, like the tens of thousands of youth and families in South Sudan.”
Salesian missionaries have been serving in Sudan and South Sudan since 1979. With decades of history in the region, they understand the role of education in breaking the cycle of violence and despair.
Even before the current conflict, South Sudan suffered the worst literacy rate in the world. Only 27 percent of adults can read and write. Fewer than two percent have completed primary school. These factors directly contribute to a society in which 91 percent of people are so desperately poor that they struggle to feed themselves every day. The resulting despair creates the conditions that are ripe for violence and unrest -- and the cycle continues.
With a presence in Juba, Tonj and Wau, as well as in Khartoum and El Obeid in the north, Salesians in the region have been committed to breaking this cycle once and for all. Their overarching vision has been to help build a new society in South Sudan -- one that guarantees peace, and promotes the dignity of every individual. This will be made possible through a robust variety of programs and partnerships.
Now, with the country in chaos and schools closed or destroyed, the missionaries’ focus has broadened to include children living in refugee camps. This helps ensure these vulnerable youth do not suffer significant interruptions to their education.
Through an innovative program offered by Don Bosco Technical Center in El Obeid, more than 400 boys from refugee camps around the country have the opportunity to attend school. After careful vetting by tribal elders and interviews with Salesian missionaries who teach at the school, these eager boys are invited to leave the camp and live at the Center. Here, they receive housing, nutritious meals and the chance to learn a trade. All these young men desire is a chance for an education and a better life.
Technical training available to the students includes trades that will be crucial to South Sudan’s rehabilitation and reconstruction after the war: electricity, carpentry, construction, machine operation, mechanics and more. When they graduate, students will not only be well-equipped for long-term work -- but will also be prepared to contribute to their country’s rebirth.
“Education helps develop the human resources necessary to build good governance, establish solid institutions, and reconstruct South Sudan’s economy,” says Fr. Mark. “In addition, the education of young refugees is especially important not only for the knowledge it imparts and the preparation for the labor market, but because it also helps youth learn good habits of behavior and a sense of normalcy, which keeps their hope alive.”
It is through the generosity of our many friends that work like this is possible in countries where conflict rages. With this caring support, youth can overcome the odds and build brighter futures for themselves, their families and their countries.
Our mission brings new hope through education to children of conflict around the world. What’s your mission?